Designer City Guide: Hong Kong

Words by: Lee Cobaj

One of the most photogenic cities in the world, Hong Kong has an unlimited number of things to see and do, places to eat and drink, and sights to see. The gritty, compact city has a thriving creative scene which continues to flourish and grow with the transformation of numerous heritage buildings into destinations for art, design and local businesses. Sky-high rent prices and passing fads mean that the scene is always evolving; with the closing of old haunts comes new favorites just around the corner.

We’ve asked three of Hong Kong's top designers to share their tips.


Kevin Mak

Photo credit: Kevin Mak

An architect and award-winning urban photographer, Kevin Mak (@kingymak) knows his hometown well from the street view. He is also the co-founder of @streetsignhk, a duo dedicated to conserving Hong Kong’s iconic neon signboards which are now becoming rarer due to bylaw changes banning the illuminated signs that once lit up the night sky.

HK City Guide 01 Photo credit: Kevin Mak


“As the co-founder of the signboard conservation movement @streetsignhk, I wish I could suggest more areas with beautiful neon signs but due to regulation change in 2010 there are almost no streets with cantilevered signs now. But, one very authentic sign that does still exist – and harks back to a time when shops would spend a lot of money of large, fancy signboards – is the one at Hop Hing Hotpot on Woo Sung Street in Jordan. A family-run Hong Kong restaurant, its classic sign consists of calligraphy characters, a neon frame and a graphic showing a signature dish (hot pot, of course).” 

65 Woosung Street, Jordan, Kowloon, Hong Kong

HK City Guide 02 Photo credit: Kevin Mak

TRAM #120

“Hong Kong's wooden open-air modes of transportation are one of the city's signature designs. Examples include the Star Ferry, the Peak Tram and Tramways. All of the trams used in Hong Kong are still hand-built locally at the depots. Try to catch a ride on the number 120 tram that was rebuilt using an old tram design – it takes you right back in time. A great contrasting slow-life-journey to view the fast-changing city.”


HK City Guide 03From left: Adam Schall Residence at United College; Chung Chi College Elizabeth Luce Moore Library. Photo credit: Kevin Mak


“This mountainside campus has a lot of architecture designed and built in the 1960s and 1970s, and many of the buildings are considered to be classic Hong Kong representations of Brutalist forms. The style is bold and raw and reflects a time when buildings were being designed in a more economic way with strong structural expression, bold geometric forms and exposed concrete finishes. Many of the exposed concrete surfaces have been painted over the years but there are a few you can still see in their original condition, which include the Adam Schall Residence at United College and the Chung Chi College Elizabeth Luce Moore Library. Find out more from the brutalist collaboration (@brutalism_hk) that I did with @openground_hk and Design Trust last September.”

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Central Avenue, Hong Kong


Betty Ng

Photo credit: Harper's Bazaar HK

Betty Ng (@kybeng) is trained as an architect in the Netherlands before returning to Hong Kong and founded COLLECTIVE Studio, which has architecture, interiors, exhibition and urban design practices. While the focus is on architecture, COLLECTIVE also branches out into research, preservation as well as experiential art among other disciplines.

HK City Guide 07Photo credit: Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts


“The Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts – and the newly opened M+ Museum, where COLLECTIVE designed the exhibition "Things, Spaces, Interactions" inside the Design & Architecture East Galleries – have given Hong Kong a stronger hold in the world of contemporary architecture. You can visit Tai Kwun any time of day, as an individual or as a family. It has great galleries, restaurants, bars and outdoor spaces and have become a quiet haven inside the hustle and bustle of the financial district in Central.”  

10 Hollywood Rd, Central, Hong Kong, @taikwun.hk

HK City Guide 08Photo credit: Kevin Mak


“COLLECTIVE designed Penicillin, which just won the Ketel One Best Sustainable Bar award at Asia's 50 Best Bars 2021. I can proudly say it is my favorite bar. Its menu serves up whimsical and experimental cocktails using sustainable food and beverage making methods. Our studio incorporated unconventional design elements that focus on preserving local heritage while giving sustainable materials a second life. Inside, you can see how we have utilized fallen tree trunks from a typhoon and incorporated molten aluminum to create bar tables. We have designed repairable authentic glass tube neon light fixtures with a local heritage conservation group @streetsignhk. We designed the  bar to also feature a laboratory and a fermentation room, so that the Penicillin team can show off their work and experiments every day.”

L/G Amber Lodge, 23 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, @penicillin_bar

HK City Guide 09Photo credit: Openrice


Café Corridor in Causeway Bay sells some of the best coffees in town, yet it is a no frills, non-designed and completely “non-instagrammable” café amidst the selfie-filled cafés in Hong Kong. This is the exact reason why I enjoy having coffee there, sitting in the back lane outdoor courtyard. One has to pass through a narrow corridor next to a tenement walk-up building stairway, which leads to a three-storey sex shop upstairs. Café Corridor has an outdoor courtyard in a back lane, so this is the place to go if you want a coffee and a cigarette, which is quite difficult to come by these days."

26A Russell Street, Bowrington, Hong Kong


JJ Acuna

Photo credit: Veronica T Lam

JJ Acuna (@jj.acuna) is the founder and creative director of his eponymous design firm JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio with bases in both Hong Kong and his native Manila, and award-winning projects across Asia-Pacific. He is one of the hottest interior designers in Hong Kong stamping his mark on trendsetting restaurants and cafes across the city.

HK City Guide 04Photo credit: The Shophouse


“This Tai Hang hang-out is a cultural high point in a quiet neighborhood setting. The building has a real sense of integrity; I love how the creative team really embraced the building and allowed it to shine by doing the most minimal work possible. There's a tea house on the ground floor and upstairs is a showroom and gallery that curate exhibitions and host collaborations for shows. I think it's wonderful that there's this intersection between a gallery and a social + cultural meeting space where people can hang out, appreciate their surroundings and learn something.” 

4 Second Lane, Tai Hang, Hong Kong, @theshophousehongkong 

Photo credit: Xu Liang Leon


“We designed this neighborhood cafe with Happy Valley residents in mind. This is somewhere you can go to feel like you're a part of the city. Our client found a really great location on Cheong Ming Street that’s surrounded by very local businesses, mostly mechanics and veterinarians, and they wanted us to create a cool meeting point where people could hang out from day to night. The owner imports Milanese roasted coffees and to reflect their specialty, we created a warm and nostalgic space. People have been really drawn to it and it's become popular with pet-lovers and those who just want to sit and read a good book with a great cup of coffee.”

35 Western Street, Sai Wan, Hong Kong, @coffeelin_hk

HK City Guide 06Photo credit: Swire Properties


“These two parks have really strong aesthetics. Quarry Bay Park is super 1980s and Taikoo Park is super modern but both have been smartly interwoven between the harbor and tall towers. I think they're both really good examples of urban design and landscape design, but they also show how the government and private enterprise can come together to create interesting urban landscapes. I run in these parks but I often find myself just taking a break by the fountains to soak up the local scene, watching the children and the people who sit, play and spend time around the sculptures.”

Taikoo Park, One Island East, Taikoo Place, Westlands Road, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong; Quarry Bay Park, Hoi Tai St, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong